Gideon Levy and Mario Vargas Llosa
Gideon Levy (left) with Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa. Photo by Nir Kafri
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The Israel Press Council’s ethics tribunal has reprimanded Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy over a column suggesting that service in the Border Police influenced a man who murdered four people in a Be’er Sheva bank.

On May 20, Be’er Sheva resident Itamar Alon went to his local bank in an effort to get his debts rescheduled. When the bank refused, he pulled out a pistol and shot four people, then killed himself when the police arrived.

Three days later, Levy published a column titled “The blurred line between hero and murderer,” in which he sought to determine what elements of Alon’s past could have led him to that fatal day. Levy mentioned Alon’s service in the territories as part of the Border Police.

“In the Combat Engineering Corps, and principally in the Border Police, Alon learned not just how to use a weapon but to use it with ease. He served in the territories. That has singular significance: The Border Police is the sickest corps of the occupation administration,” Levy wrote.

“The reasons are sociological and ethnic and are linked to the background of most of its policemen − Russians, Druze, Ethiopians and residents of Israel’s geographic periphery − who are cynically and not coincidentally sent by Israel to be the spearhead of its violent rule over the Palestinians and who, not coincidentally, become extremely brutal.”

The Israel Police responded by filing a complaint with the Press Council. Levy and Haaretz argued that the article was a legitimate expression of opinion, but the ethics tribunal rejected this argument.

It said Levy had violated articles of the ethics code that mandate fact-checking, objectivity and loyalty to the truth, as well as the article that bars any mention of a person’s country of origin, ethnicity or social class if it isn’t relevant to the subject under discussion. It also said Haaretz’s editors had not made sure the facts were checked and that they were not careful enough about what the paper published.

The tribunal ordered Levy and Haaretz to publish an apology, in part for failing to note that Alon had served in the Border Police for only one year, in 1995/6, during which time he took part in joint patrols with Palestinians and “was not involved in any untoward incidents that could, even by implication, create a connection between his service in the Border Police and the murder he committed 17 years later.”

It also ruled that there was no basis for Levy’s claim that in the Border Police, Alon learned “that it’s possible to kill innocents and not be punished.” Nor was there any justification for casting aspersions on Border Police members due to their origins and ethnic affiliation, it said.

Haaretz and Levy plan to appeal.